If we’re all too busy being social businesses, who’s going to inspire the young?
I’m glad we’re starting to see a bit of discussion about the value of charitable status and the different roles and purposes of the multitude of non-profit organisations and companies that are springing up.
I’ve been worried for a long time that the sector’s charities have been drifting too far from their campaigning and fundraising roots and into service delivery. What started out in the sector as an interesting stroll down a path towards the creation of diverse public service partners has opened up into a gigantic free-for-all. Predictably, the sector is now populated with social enterprises, social businesses, community interest companies and others, all willing to be in receipt of the state’s dollar to deliver our public services. And they are all competing with the charities that paved the way through the Compact.
Public service delivery is now a vast and open market. Ask Serco.
But when the large children and young people’s charities prefer to call themselves ‘social businesses’ in order to compete in this overcrowded marketplace, we move inexorably into territory where charitable purpose becomes meaningless and even undesirable.
For vulnerable and disadvantaged young people this is not good news. As we have seen with the Work Programme, the need to meet targets in order to justify or even receive funding for a service, leads to the people with the most complex needs being ignored. They are those who cannot be ‘resolved’ or moved on quickly and inexpensively.
So if charities stop thinking like charities entirely, who will be there for the most disadvantaged, those most in need of the long-term, expensive solutions? And who will take the time to set up and fund the types of projects that have less tangible outcomes, like those devoted to raising young people’s self-esteem or engaging them in the arts?
That problem speaks to a wider issue. We are told that in a time of austerity, those ‘fluffy’ projects with ‘soft’ outcomes cannot be prioritised. Projects that help young people get to know themselves, identify their talents and abilities and begin to explore them, projects that help them manage their relationships or develop their communication skills and ability to work with others – these are difficult to fund, hard to justify.
And yet, it is these skills, dispositions and aptitudes that will help our young people navigate the years to come and the barriers we have left in the road.
Charities must not forget their roots. Yes, funding is hard to come by and contracts with government offer an attractive source of reliable income. But let’s not forget who we are and why we came here.
Young people under the age of sixteen are now prevented from walking the streets of Bangor town centre at night, unless a responsible adult is with them.
The Education Secretary is to consult on the reintroduction of O Levels and CSEs, meaning that young people would have the limit of their ability to achieve determined for them at the age of thirteen.
The number of young people aged 16-18 who are not in education, employment or training, rose again in the last quarter.
It’s getting harder and harder to be young. Charities have a job to do and it is at the side of the children and young people who need us.